The young women come out at night to sell themselves, or more accurately, rent themselves. Some are too young, and some are men. The other men are selling street-viagra.
This is the red-light district in Makati, Manila; an infamous strip of bars, clubs and street life where people do what they must to get by. Still however, as everywhere in Philippines, the locals are friendly and ever smiling. We walk past the Midget Boxing bar. A couple of little people are standing outside having a cigarette before starting their shift.
Smoking in public has recently been banned by president Rodrigo Duterte, for health reasons, so the smokers have been comically pushed back into the bars. We hit up a tequila joint where the beaming waitress gives us two shots, two beers and half a coca-cola can… the ashtray. Of course, smoking is illegal inside the bars. Management knows however exactly what time the police will be arriving to check for code violations and to accept their small bribe. By coincidence, this takes place half way through our first beer. The waitress apologises for taking my ashtray and promises I will be able to smoke again in ten minutes. A duo performs live in the corner and everyone is singing. We join in. Everyone is having fun singing, because… Philippines.
We move on… perhaps a bite to eat at the next bar. This one’s a sports bar called Howzat! That means cricket, which I like. We order drinks and I look through the laminated menu. Ahhh, not so like.
“This is weird,” I think aloud, pointing at the big orange face, designed to entice me to order a burger, but having the opposite effect.
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence”, she says. My friend and guide is a Manila native, and before I can prompt her to complete this somewhat cryptic remark, she tells me she’ll show me later. We have a couple more drinks. We don’t order the burgers.
A bit more bar-hopping, people watching, then a stroll back to the hotel, just around the corner. The infamous P. Burgos street seems a world away.
“Recognise that building over there? We saw it earlier today when we were walking”.
“That’s Trump Tower!” Spacial orientation isn’t my strongest suit.
The building is (of course) the tallest in the area, just higher than its neighbour. It has to be. It’s got Trump’s name at the top. It was completed this very month… November, 2017. From my view, 30 floors up, the garish glass tower looms imposingly… and, though brand new, several windows are missing which hopefully didn’t kill anyone upon impact.
At the top of this glass monstrosity is an extension that serves no purpose at all, except just to be sure I guess. Trump wins! It doesn’t matter that the building is already falling apart, having recently been completed… or that the older residential building next door has balconies, and windows that open instead of crashing to the street below. Trump is bigger!
It’s kind of apt I think. Where better to slap your name on the tallest building, the biggest burger, than in a neighbourhood where people pay to watch little people beat each other up; where, due to poverty, underage prostitutes come from the provinces to sell themselves to despicable old men… and street hustlers know the most viable market is… viagra?
Stay classy Don.
…for the record, by day Makati is a shopping and financial hub. This is one microcosm of Philippines, one of the world’s truly friendliest and most beautiful places.